As with my favorite singles of the year list, finding ten albums from 2009 that I really loved wasn’t as big a task as I first expected it to be, but narrowing it down and placing them was the real chore. I’ve certainly been more influenced by the various blogs and sites I read this year than I ever have before – the influence of sites like The 9513, Country Universe, The Gobbler’s Knob, etc. are definitely showing here. Not to mention, I’ve picked up lots of great music from the suggestions of my fellow writers here at My Kind of Country. In case you missed any of them, they’re all worth adding to your collection, and here my ten favorite albums from the past twelve months.
10. EP – Caitlin & Will (Sony)
The debut release from the winners of CMT’s Can You Duet turned out to be a six-song digital EP instead of a full album in CD form. A varied collection of songs that, in my opinion, is very focused, especially for two singers who were thrown together on a reality show. Caitlin’s crystal clear vocals provide the perfect balance to Will Snyder’s husky delivery. There were several great songs on here, and no throwaways. Check out ‘Even Now’, ‘Leaves of September’, and ‘Dark Horse’.
9. Live On The Inside – Sugarland (Mercury)
Sugarland’s recent live set follows the CD/DVD combo form. I was a little disappointed that the full show with all their hits wasn’t also the audio CD. The DVD serves the live album’s purpose – to capture their hits in concert, and the result is a full-blown Sugarland show, complete with all their hits, hamster balls and all. Rather than being an audio form of that show, the CD features several tracks not found on the DVD, mostly all covers of pop and rock songs from the past 20-something years. Some I could do without, but the real gems like ‘Circle’ and ‘Better Man’, where Nettles puts her own distinctive vocal stamp on these rock hits, are a real treat. Their country spin on Beyonce’s ‘Irreplaceable’ is more enjoyable than it probably should be and Kristian does a fine job when he takes a turn at lead on ‘The One I Love’.
8. Twang – George Strait (MCA)
The latest offering from King George finds him stepping outside his comfort zone with off-beat tracks like ‘Arkansas Dave’ and the all-Spanish ‘El Rey’. Showing up as a co-writer on 3 of the album’s tracks is also a fairly new development for Strait, but judging from the quality of the material he wrote with Dean Dillon and his son, Bubba Strait, I’m hoping George picks up his pen more often, and also takes more chances musically, with his next album. For now, I’m still enjoying spinning this one.
7. Beautiful Day – Charlie Robison (Dualtone)
When Charlie Robison and Dixie Chicks banjo-playing, multi-instrumentalist Emily Irwin Robison divorced in 2008, the Texas singer/songwriter poured his misery into this collection of songs. Robison sings here of regrets, heartache, and moving on, all with a tinge of sadness and even a touch of reluctance. Favorite tracks include ‘Down Again’ and ‘Reconsider’.
6. Sing: Chapter 1 -Wynonna (Curb)
Since leaving The Judds and going solo, Wynonna’s sound has changed a lot over the years. We’ve heard her incorporating sounds from R&B, pop, rock, jazz, and everything in between. A collection of classic songs from several genres, with one new song in the way of the title track written by Rodney Crowell, Sing is an interesting and at times inspired collection. Wynonna’s ferocious delivery is front and center the entire time, always reminding us that Wynonna Judd is the owner of one of the finest voices of our time.
5. My Turn – Tanya Tucker (Saguaro Road)
I rightly called 2009 ‘the year of the tribute’ earlier in the year, and looking over my top albums of the year list, I think I made a justifiable generalization since so many of my favorite artists released albums looking back and paying tribute to the classic songs that country music was built on. Tanya’s covers album was just a step above Wynonna’s mostly for the arrangements behind the songs. While Wynonna took the songs, changed them up, and made them something different, Tanya took a straightforward approach, and simply infused her patented vocals into these tried and true songs, injecting her personality into them at the same time. I find myself playing this one more than I expected to, especially ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here’ and ‘You Don’t Know Me’.
4. Keep On Loving You – Reba (Valory)
I admit this is an album that took time to grow on me before I really loved it. After the first couple listens to Reba’s first album for her new record label, I was a bit disappointed. I expected more in the way of going back to the classic Reba sound. But Reba has never been an artist to look back, but instead forges ahead with the trends of the day. She reminded us why she’s one of the most successful and respected singers in country music’s history with this release, and tracks like ‘Over You’, ‘Maggie Creek Road’, and the chart-topping second single, ‘Consider Me Gone’, are throwbacks to the time when Reba music was golden, and her vocal performances throughout the album are engaging. This is certainly an album with lasting power in my own library.
3. The List – Rosanne Cash (Manhattan)
The idea behind this album is fascinating in itself. An eighteen year-old Rosanne, whose father was a bonafide superstar in country music, didn’t seem to know much about its history. Being a good father, Johnny Cash set out to correct this, making his daughter a list of 100 essential country songs. The entire list still hasn’t been made available for the public to see, but Rosanne did record twelve of them for her latest offering, simply titled The List. Cash weaves through these country classics with ease and gives a contemporary interpretation to them, with the help from some of her superstar New Yorker friends like Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, and Bruce Springsteen. Choice tracks include ‘Sea of Heartbreak’ (with Springsteen), ‘Long Black Veil’, and ‘Girl From The North Country’.
2. Revolution – Miranda Lambert (Sony)
On her third studio album, Lambert has finally come into her own as an artist, and in my opinion, has reached a peak in her evolution as an artist. Note that I said ‘a peak’ and not ‘the peak’. While it doesn’t pack the power punch her last album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did, and doesn’t seem to have as clear a vision, Lambert has never been stronger as a writer or a vocalist than on Revolution. She wrote most of the album, but she also had the good sense to draw from the wealth of material coming out of Music City and other places, and a quick glance of the liner notes shows names like Ashley Monroe, John Prine, and Julie Miller, among Lambert’s own many writes and co-writes, a couple with boyfriend Blake Shelton. Of particular note are ‘The House That Built Me’, ‘Heart Like Mine, and ‘That’s The Way The World Goes ‘Round’.
1. The Long Way Home – Terri Clark (Bare Tracks)
Taking the top spot on my list is Terri Clark’s first independent release after freeing herself from big-label politics. Terri had taken a sabbatical to her native Canada to care for her mother and write songs when she headed to Nashville earlier this year and recorded this set in three takes. The result is one of the most focused albums I’ve ever heard. Whether it was intentional, or just a facet of her state of mind at the time, Clark has taken on a more mature aura to her music and herself, imparting the sort of wisdom that only comes from experience. ’A Million Ways To Run’ is a beautiful and telling narrative about running from your problems. ’Merry Go Round’ talks of slowing down, enjoying life, and taking stock, while ‘If You Want Fire’ warns and coaches you on the ups and downs of a red-hot love affair. Clark has never sounded better, nor has her writing been as sharp than on this introverted collection of songs.